State-of-the-Art Strategies for Targeting RET-Dependent Cancers

J Clin Oncol. 2020 Apr 10;38(11):1209-1221. doi: 10.1200/JCO.19.02551. Epub 2020 Feb 21.


Activating receptor tyrosine kinase RET (rarranged during transfection) gene alterations have been identified as oncogenic in multiple malignancies. RET gene rearrangements retaining the kinase domain are oncogenic drivers in papillary thyroid cancer, non-small-cell lung cancer, and multiple other cancers. Activating RET mutations are associated with different phenotypes of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 as well as sporadic medullary thyroid cancer. RET is thus an attractive therapeutic target in patients with oncogenic RET alterations. Multikinase inhibitors with RET inhibitor activity, such as cabozantinib and vandetanib, have been explored in the clinic for tumors with activating RET gene alterations with modest clinical efficacy. As a result of the nonselective nature of these multikinase inhibitors, patients had off-target adverse effects, such as hypertension, rash, and diarrhea. This resulted in a narrow therapeutic index of these drugs, limiting ability to dose for clinically effective RET inhibition. In contrast, the recent discovery and clinical validation of highly potent selective RET inhibitors (pralsetinib, selpercatinib) demonstrating improved efficacy and a more favorable toxicity profile are poised to alter the landscape of RET-dependent cancers. These drugs appear to have broad activity across tumors with activating RET alterations. The mechanisms of resistance to these next-generation highly selective RET inhibitors is an area of active research. This review summarizes the current understanding of RET alterations and the state-of-the-art treatment strategies in RET-dependent cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Gene Rearrangement
  • Germ-Line Mutation
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret / physiology


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret